istock_000009190039xsmallContact dermatitis is an acute inflammatory reaction of the skin resulting from direct contact with a substance to which the skin is sensitive. Some of the possible causes of contact dermatitis include things like adhesive tape, dyes in leather or uniforms, elastic wraps, locally applied ointments, chemical powders, soaps, detergents, perfumes, deodorants, certain topical medications (such as antibiotics, antihistamines, anesthetics, or antiseptics), and plants (such as poison ivy, poison oak, sumac, ragweed, and primrose).


Depending on the duration of contact and the intensity of the reaction, the period of onset from the initial exposure may range from 1 day to 1 week. The first apparent change in the skin is redness (erythema) that is sharply limited to the area that came in contact with the causative agent. Along with the erythema, small itching papules (bumps) may form, and blister like elevations known as vesicles may develop. These vesicles may rupture, oozing a fluid that results in a crusty appearance. A constant itch may then develop, which increases with heat and is made worse by rubbing. Scratching of the lesions will commonly result in secondary infection.


When a person exhibits signs of contact dermatitis, it is imperative that the irritants be identified (via a careful history), and removed from exposure. Acute skin reactions are treated with cool compresses or soaks and topical corticosteroid preparations in forms that promote drying, such as: aerosol sprays, gels, lotions, solutions, or creams. Systemic antihistamines reduce itching, but have an undesirable sedative effect. An appropriate medical professional may also suggest the use of aspirin in doses of 300 to 600 mg every 4 hours to reduce the pain and itching of symptomatic patients. Prescribed oral antibiotics may also be needed for a brief period if secondary infection develops.

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